At 18, Joshua Akpudje had experienced a series of disappointment that could have seen him turn his back on his football dream, but the Lagos-born defender remained focused.
Slovenia, Croatia, and Czech Slovakia were the countries Akpudje tried out after he was discovered by Stephen Ayodele Makinwa, a former Nigerian international turned agent at an inter-high school tournament known as Principal’s Cup in Nigeria.
“Going to Europe three times and failing was crazy, knowing where I come from was a slump where there was no food to eat,” Akpudje told Footballers Connect in an Instagram Live chat.
“I began to see myself as a failure because it was too much for me to bear as a teenager coupled with the pressure I faced in the community.”
In 2016, at Olimpija, a Slovenian club, he was told he was too small. Croatian outfit Hajduk Split was his next destination where although he had another glimmer of light, participating in the preseason with the team, the club and his management could not reach an agreement.
At the end of 2018, he was invited by Czechoslovakian club FC Slovacko. After two weeks with the team, the coach advised him to reconsider his career choice.
“The coach of the club walked up to me after training and said you have to go back to Nigeria, you don’t have what it takes to play in Europe. Go back home and learn something else,” he recalled.
“My mum was at the airport to receive me when I arrived at the airport in Lagos. She told me everything would be fine that I was not a failure. Even in my area, they called me names and said I have failed because I have travelled thrice and didn’t make it.”
Joshua was at home for more than a year before getting an opportunity to play for Nigeria Professional Football League side MFM FC. Determined to make it despite the previous disappointment, he had a remarkable season at the Lagos-based club.
“It was not easy for me playing the same role as the captain and some experienced players. I had to summon the courage to utilize my chance. The then home-based Super Eagles coach Imama Amakpakabo alongside other coaches spotted me in the game against Remo Stars and invited me to national team camp in Abuja.
“I was nervous meeting players I watch on television such as Victor Osimhen, Samuel Chukwueze, Taiwo Awoniyi, and I said to myself that if I’m going to make this team, I have to stay very long in the camp. I psyched myself up.
He went ahead to play for Nigeria U23 side in March 2019 against Libya, seeing 90 minutes of action in an Africa U-23 Cup of Nations qualification game.
One of his best footballing moments came while turning out for MFM FC. He helped them to a victory against Jigawa Golden Stars, netting a brace after putting the ball in his goal.
His impressive showings earned him a move abroad. In March, Akpudje joined BFC Daugavpils in Latvia, where he now stars at the heart of the club’s defence. Last season, he chalked up 23 appearances.
In the course of his journey to becoming an elite player, he hopes to play in the Belgian Jupiler League to develop further. And in the future, he’s eyeing English giants Manchester United.